An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
St Thomas’s Special School,
Clonshaugh, Co. Dublin
Roll No: 19793T
Date of inspection: 20 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
This report has been written following a whole-school evaluation of St Thomas’s Special School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the future of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, a visiting teacher for Travellers and a parent. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which the inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspectors interacted with students and teachers and examined students’ work. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff members, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Thomas’s School is a special school that caters exclusively for boys and girls from Traveller families. The school was established originally in Booterstown in 1981 and moved to its current location in 1983. The school operates under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin and has a local board of management. The students are aged from twelve to sixteen years. The student body includes nomadic Travellers, students who have poor records of school attendance and others who dropped out of mainstream school prior to enrolment in St Thomas’s School. Post-primary junior cycle subjects are presented to the students. Staffing includes six full time teachers, three part-time teachers and two special-needs assistants.
It is stated in the school vision statement that the school is for teenage Traveller children in North County Dublin whose parents have chosen to send them to a Traveller-only school. The school has a wide catchment area that includes Ballymun, Coolock, Cappagh, Cabra, Finglas, Malahide, Belcamp, Kilbarrack, Edenmore, Priorswood and Swords. At the time of the evaluation, twenty-eight boys and eight girls were enrolled. Transport for students to and from the school is provided by buses that are owned by the school. The running costs of the buses and the drivers’ wages are provided by the Department of Education and Science.
Students are encouraged by school staff to transfer to further education or training following their placement in St Thomas’s School. Some past-students attend senior Traveller training centres and others participate in courses organised by Fás and Youthreach. A few students have transferred to mainstream post-primary schools to take Junior Certificate programmes. So far, no student has transferred to a mainstream post-primary school to study for the Leaving Certificate.
Commendable efforts are made by the school management and staff to provide a supportive environment for the students. Breakfast and a hot lunch are provided in the school. The principal and staff members encourage the students to attend and rewards systems for good attendance are in place. The staff endeavours to provide a consistent teaching and learning environment in the school and contact is maintained with parents. In addition, the school buses often call to students’ homes a second time in the mornings to collect them for school. However, the positive efforts by management and staff are frequently negated by poor attendance by the students and by their inconsistent learning behaviour while in school.
The enrolment on 30 September 2006 was thirty-four students. This represents a drop of nine students since 30 September 2005. Attendance figures are returned by the school to the Education Welfare Board and the school management maintains contact with the school’s Education Welfare Officer in relation to individual cases. The poor attendance rates and difficulties in relation to the retention of students in the school are matters of concern.
Over the past two school years, about half of the students, on average, were present in the school throughout most of the year. There was a tendency for the attendance to drop lower during the months of April, May and June. In the current school year, the attendance by girls is particularly unsatisfactory. The attendance by three of the eight girls is so low that they can hardly be considered to be attending school at all. Members of the school staff suggested that certain cultural factors contribute to the poor attendance by the girls and that peer support for their attendance and participation in school activities is weak. In addition, some of the supports for attendance that are organised by the school do not impact on the girls, particularly due to their reluctance to participate in activities organised through the School Completion Programme.
Difficulties also exist in relation to the retention of students. Six students are due to take the Junior Certificate Examination in June 2007. However, nine children who were due to be in third year did not return to school in September 2006. Five of the nine children transferred to paid training in training centres.
No homework is given to the students. On one day per week, a “homework” club is organised under the School Completion Programme. The homework club is focussed mainly on students who are taking the Junior Certificate Examination. Given the shortness of the school day (see section 2.1 below) and the demands of the post-primary curriculum, it is recommended that the school policy on homework be reconsidered and that new procedures for homework be agreed between staff and students.
The board of management is constituted in accordance with the Rules for National Schools. The board meets about five times per year. The minutes of the last three meetings show that the board is involved in the general issues of enrolment, attendance, support for students, staff deployment and building maintenance. A range of administrative and curricular policies has been approved by the board. The need to revise these policies is discussed elsewhere in this report.
The school follows the primary school year and is in operation on 183 days per year. The school opens at 9.00am and closes at 2.20pm, remaining open for a total of five hours and twenty minutes per day. One hour and ten minutes per day are set aside for assembly, school meals, and recreation and sports activities, leaving four hours and ten minutes for instruction. A twenty-minute long break for recreation and sports is organised from 2.00pm to 2.20pm, immediately before the students go home. The school day as currently arranged is twenty minutes shorter that the time set down by the Department of Education and Science in Circular 11/95. The time for teaching and learning is also short by twenty minutes. There is no extended recreation break for the students during the course of the day. Staff explained that the midday break was discontinued as a response to the volatile behaviour of some students who find it difficult to cope with classroom activities after an extended break. Nevertheless, it is advised that the students should be provided with the opportunity to have an extended recreation break in the middle of the school day, with activities organised and supervised by school staff as appropriate. It is also recommended that the school day be extended and reorganised in compliance with the terms of Circular 11/95. Given the fact that all the students are of post-primary school age, the possibility should also be examined of extending the school day to provide additional time in school to cover the post-primary syllabus and in order to bring the day into line with the post-primary school day.
The principal provides committed leadership for the school and performs her work in a dedicated manner. She endeavours to create a positive school climate and encourages staff and students to make their best efforts. She has made considerable efforts to draw up a school plan. The principal works in a supportive manner with parents and is available to meet parents by appointment or when parents call to the school. She encourages the students to attend school, maintains regular contact with parents and visits the students’ homes. She maintains links with agencies outside the school, particularly those associated with provision for Travellers and acts steadfastly as an advocate for the school and its students. It was noted that some official school records are not well maintained and that important information on students is missing from the roll book and the school register. It is recommended that the principal should take immediate steps to ensure that the official school records are maintained in compliance with rule 123 of the Rules for National Schools and the regulations of the Education Welfare Board.
The deputy principal works in a co-operative and supportive manner with the principal. He co-ordinates the Junior Certificate School Programme and takes responsibility for aspects of whole-school planning and planning for individual students. He works with the other staff members in relation to classroom planning. As staff representative on the board of management, he provides a link between the staff and the board in relation to decision-making at board meetings.
Certain other staff members take responsibility for aspects of school organisation. Notwithstanding this, greater opportunity for staff members to take responsibility for aspects of school organisation and day-to-day decision-making would contribute to the smoother operation of the school. To this end, it is recommended that the organisational and management duties of all staff members be clarified, restated and be subject to annual review. Staff meetings are held approximately once per month during the final class period of the day. Organisational matters and issues related to individual students are discussed.
The school is staffed by six full-time teachers including the principal, and three part-time teachers. The principal and two teacher posts are allocated directly by the Department of Education and Science. The City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee allocates two full-time teacher posts (Art and History) and an annual allocation of 200 part-time teacher hours, which enables the employment of two part-time teachers for Home Economics. The other two teacher posts are provided under the Clonshaugh Consortium School Completion Programme: the coordinator (full-time) and a home visitor (part-time, for four days per week). Ancillary staff includes two special-needs assistants, a childcare worker provided by the Health Services Executive, two bus drivers, one of whom also does some caretaking work, a cleaner and a bus escort. One of the SNAs acts as housekeeper and cooks the meals for the students. A swimming coach works with the students during their weekly sessions in the swimming pool.
The teachers operate as specialist subject teachers as in a post-primary school. The students move to different classrooms and to different teachers in accordance with the school timetable. The teachers have accessed training in the curriculum from both the primary and post-primary curriculum support services and from School Development Planning Support (Primary). In addition, members of staff have participated in training courses on behaviour management organised by the Special Education Support Service and short courses relating to aspects of the curriculum. The staff has also attended a two-day course on Solution Focused Brief Therapy. A staff member is currently undertaking a Higher Diploma in Positive Behaviour Management at university level.
The two special-needs assistants provide academic and behavioural support to students, as required. Both special-needs assistants have attended training courses. As observed during the evaluation, the special-needs assistants contribute in a positive manner to student activities inside and outside the classrooms.
The school building was extended and modernised in 1997 and is generally in good condition. General maintenance of the school building and grounds is supplied by the school caretaker. Currently there are three general classrooms, a classroom for visual arts, a classroom for home economics and a general purpose area that is used as a canteen for students and for assemblies. There is also a learning-support room, a principal’s office and a computer room. Ancillary accommodation includes rooms for storage and laundry, and toilets for staff and for students. Outdoor facilities include a car park and tarmacadam area that is used for PE and recreation activities. There is no school hall and indoor accommodation for Physical Education is very limited. There are no facilities for Science or for practical subjects such as metalwork and woodwork. These accommodation deficits restrict severely the capacity of the school to provide certain post-primary programmes. It is stated in the school plan that the facilities of a local Traveller training centre are used for woodwork. However, this centre was not in use at the time of the evaluation. A public swimming pool is used for swimming. A local community centre is used for football and indoor games are organised in a local Traveller centre.
A variety of material resources for teaching and learning is available in the school. Works completed by students in the areas of language and Visual Arts are displayed in the general areas throughout the school. The range of resources for teaching and learning is limited. Many areas of learning would be enhanced by the provision of improved classroom libraries, print-rich classroom environments, investigation tables, the exploration of the local environment, the use of equipment and displays related to mathematics, and the use of computers within the mainstream classrooms.
The school management and staff endeavour to build and maintain good relations with the Traveller community and with organisations that provide services for Travellers. There is regular contact with the visiting teachers for Travellers and with the Education Welfare Officer particularly in relation to enrolment, attendance and the transfer of students following their placement in St Thomas’s School. Parents are represented on the board of management. Efforts have been made by the school to form a Parents’ Association. These efforts had not been successful, apparently due to lack of interest among the parents.
Formal and in-formal parent-teacher meetings are held regularly during the year. Not all parents attend these meetings even though transport is often provided. End-of-term reports are sent to parents. Parents are also invited to the school for special events. Classes in cookery for parents have also been organised. Frequent contact is maintained with parents through the school transport service and by the staff who are working on the School Completion Programme. A teacher who is employed under the School Completion Programme visits student’s homes regularly, particularly the homes of students who are experiencing difficulties with attendance or some other aspect of education. Sometimes support is provided by the principal on these visits.
Positive actions are taken by school management and teachers to create a school environment that is welcoming and encouraging for the students. The commitment by staff to the pastoral care and overall general welfare of the students was noted. The students are treated respectfully by staff members and a range of general support measures are in place. The support measures include the school meals programme and the activities that are funded through the School Completion Programme. During the school evaluation, the students were generally on task and no incident of serious misbehaviour was observed. The teachers encouraged the students to participate to the best of their abilities in the curricular and extracurricular activities on offer. Within the classrooms, much individualised instruction and support was provided.
A school code of behaviour and discipline has been formulated and classroom rules are displayed in each classroom. Staff members try to ensure that the students understand the rationale for various measures in the code of behaviour and discipline and help the students to co-operate with specific rules. Staff members also endeavour to take account of individual differences among the students and to treat each student in a fair and individualised manner. Rewards are provided for good behaviour and attendance.
Staff members reported that the levels of misbehaviour among the students have reduced considerably over the years. However, they also acknowledged that considerable difficulties continue in managing the behaviour of certain students and providing a school environment that is free from bullying and harassment. The behaviour of some students remains volatile and unpredictable. Some students are prone to “acting out” in a manner that undermines discipline in the classroom and that impacts negatively on the learning opportunities for other students. Staff members indicated that the tasks of managing students’ negative behaviours and preventing bullying remain areas of ongoing concern. It is recommended that further training opportunities for staff in the management of challenging behaviour be provided.
The school vision statement makes reference to the patronage of the school, the date of establishment and the enrolment policy. The teachers have attended courses in school policy development that were provided by School Development Planning Support (Primary) and the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. A series of school policy statements has been drawn up by members of staff under the leadership of the principal. These policy statements relate to both organisational and curricular matters and include the school vision statement, the school enrolment policy, the health and safety statement, the School Completion Programme, the ICT policy, the code of behaviour and discipline, the assessment policy, the learning support policy, a statement on teachers’ planning and preparation and statements on certain areas of the curriculum. There is unevenness in the quality and style of the policy statements and many are incomplete. Most statements are lacking in specificity and do not provide the necessary guidance and support for staff in relation to planning programmes of teaching and learning or carrying out their organisational responsibilities at whole-school level. Revision of the school vision statement for the purpose of setting out the defining principles of the school would serve as a helpful starting point for strategic planning and school policy development. Revised policies for the implementation of the curriculum can inform planning by individual teachers and function as an effective framework for teaching and learning, thus facilitating the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum for the students.
It is recommended that the board of management, in conjunction with the staff, and parents as appropriate, should put in place a timetable for the review and reformulation of the organisational and curricular policies in the school plan. The board should ensure that the plan is progressed and that parents are kept informed of the school’s progress as described in section 20 of the Education Act (1998).
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
There is an agreed whole-school format for the teachers’ long-term and short-term preparation and recording of progress. The teachers draw up long-term plans of the work to be completed over the year with a term-by-term breakdown. Monthly reports for each aspect of the curriculum are completed by the teachers and are kept in the principal’s office. The quality of classroom planning varies. In some plans, the objectives are stated clearly and attention is paid to teaching strategies, classroom organisation and the use of resources. In other classrooms, planning is focussed mainly on content and little reference is made to instructional objectives or to teaching methods. It was noted also that the degree to which learning is individualised is not always reflected in teachers’ short-term planning. Greater specificity in teacher’s planning notes in relation to the engagement of individual students in the curriculum and the methodologies used would aid progression and continuity in these students’ programmes. It is recommended that the policy statement in the school plan on preparation and planning be modified with a view to agreeing revised school guidelines for long-term and short-term preparation by the teachers. Such guidelines would aim to ensure that teaching methodology and continuity of content are addressed more effectively and that the objectives in each area of the curriculum are realised in a more consistent manner,
The staff display a caring attitude and respect for the students and for Traveller culture. The students are placed in four class groupings based mainly on age. There are two first year classes, one second year class and one third year class. Timetables are organised in the September of each year to accommodate the requirements of the students. Class periods are for approximately fifty minutes. Teachers take responsibility for teaching specific subjects. The students move to different classrooms to access individual subjects. The behaviour of students in the various classes is uneven. Students sometimes demonstrate a lack of interest and their engagement in learning is irregular and unpredictable. Some students act in a disorderly manner and disrupt the work of other students. In some classes a limited range of learning experiences is offered and there is an over-reliance on workbooks and worksheets. More frequent and judicious use of activity-based and group-learning approaches would help to engage the students more gainfully in learning.
According to the school plan, the Junior Certificate programme and the Junior Certificate School Programme are provided in six subjects. Students sit the Junior Certificate Examination in a local
post-primary school. In 2006 six students completed the Junior Certificate Examination in five subjects: English (foundation and ordinary level), Mathematics (foundation and ordinary levels), History (ordinary level), Art, Craft and Design (ordinary level) and Home Economics (ordinary level). Civic, Social and Political Education is also provided within the Junior Certificate programme. Other subjects that are provided outside the Junior Certificate programme are Social Personal and Health Education, Physical Education, Music and Religion. Targets from the Junior Certificate School Programme are used in certain subject areas as starting points for teaching and learning, and certificates are presented to the students following the satisfactory completion of courses.
Individual Education Plans are drawn up for some of the students by the teacher with responsibility for learning support and by a teacher who has taken on responsibility for Individual Education Plans. Scope for development in the processes pertaining to the formulation, implementation and review of Individual Education Plans was identified during the evaluation. Further comment on Individual Education Plans is made in section 5 below, Quality of Support for Pupils.
A suitable programme of extracurricular activities for boys is organised. These activities include social outings, table and board games and a holiday programme. At the time of the evaluation, the girls were not participating in these extracurricular activities. Girls participate in the annual holiday programme that is organised under the School Completion Project.
Ní sholáthraítear clár Gaeilge ar churaclam Scoil Thomáis.
Irish is not presented as a subject on the curriculum in St Thomas’s School.)
Good practice was observed in the delivery of the English programme. Planning at classroom level centres on individual learning targets that are drawn from the Junior Certificate School Programme. Classroom plans include aims, content and methodologies. Strategies for differentiation and the pacing of lessons are noted. Individual Education Plans are drawn up by the teacher to plan for the special educational needs of students within the context of English. Initiatives associated with the Junior Certificate School Programme are adapted to promote the development of literacy skills. Students participate in the Readathon, local library visits and USSR (Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading) time. A variety of suitable reading material is available. This includes works of fiction and books on topics of interest to the students as well as the traditional Junior Certificate textbooks. Attempts are made to select culturally-relevant texts to promote the development of independent reading skills. Oral and written language skills are developed primarily through a language-experience approach and also through a wide variety of activities including story-telling, improvisation, writing frames, and handwriting and spelling exercises. In the lessons that were observed, motivating and easily accessible activities were used to introduce new topics. A variety of multi-level activities, teacher-prepared worksheets and individual questioning were used as differentiation strategies. Support for individual students was provided. There was some evidence of cross-curricular work with key subject words being studied in English lessons. When withdrawn to the computer room, some students continued to develop language skills by using the computer to edit their writing. Students also contribute material for a newsletter. Daily records are kept to monitor the progress of individual students. Achievement is measured by means of teacher observation, weekly spelling and vocabulary quizzes. Tests are administered at the end of each unit of study and at the end of each term.
Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative
St Thomas’ School is not involved the Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative . Neither is a modern language included in the post-primary programmes on offer.
The students are provided with a graded programme in Mathematics in preparation for the Junior Certificate at foundation level. The school policy on Mathematics places emphasis on the learning of computational skills and the solution of problems in real-life situations. However, little evidence of problem-solving in realistic situations was observed during the evaluation. A range of concrete and visual materials together with textbooks, workbooks and worksheets was in evidence in the classroom. In the lessons that were observed, considerable emphasis was placed on the completion of worksheet exercises that were focussed on number. The students were provided with individual assistance while working on these assignments. The development of the students’ competencies in Mathematics, particularly their understanding of concepts and problem-solving skills could be enhanced through the provision of more opportunity for oral discussion, active learning strategies including the manipulation of materials, and the association of learning in mathematics to realistic situations within and outside the school.
There is a well-written whole-school policy on the teaching of History. The course outline in the school policy is based on the Junior Certificate curriculum. Class plans for each term, month and fortnight include a clear account of the general and specific aims of instruction, and provide sequenced objectives and detailed information on the methodologies to be used. Differentiation strategies and assessment procedures are also described. The quality and quantity of the work observed during the evaluation provide substantial evidence that teaching is effective in this area and that the students are making progress. Teaching is characterised by good classroom management. Relevant and varied learning activities including the completion of teacher-made worksheets are presented. High-quality questioning techniques are employed and the use of praise, reinforcement and positive correction help the students to focus and engage. Good teacher support is provided to help the students acquire new vocabulary and ancillary literacy skills. The classroom walls feature examples of the students’ work, posters of historical events, pictures of personalities as well as maps and pictures of artefacts.
Geography is not presented as subject on the school curriculum.
Science is offered as a subject in St Thomas’s School for the first time in the school year 2006-2007. The availability of Science-related materials is very limited, and the capacity of the school to offer Science is severely restricted by the non-availability of a Science laboratory in the school. A policy statement on Science is not included in the school plan. The Junior Certificate syllabus in Science is not being followed. For class work, a number of topics of likely-student interest have been selected from a senior primary school Science resource book. Planning documents indicate the intention to gradually introduce Science as a subject in the school. Initially, the Science programme will focus on topics such as food and health, heating, the circulatory system and animal habitats over the course of the year. Further developmental work is required in the area of Science to develop a syllabus and to procure suitable equipment for teaching and learning.
The programme in Home Economics is delivered by two part-time teachers. The teachers collaborate effectively in the organisation of the various elements of the programme. One teacher presents the “academic” and craft elements of Home Economics and the second teacher provides lessons in cookery. The lessons in both craft and cookery are well organised and are delivered using appropriate equipment. The students learn to use equipment in the appropriate manner and are given appropriate opportunity to consolidate their skills. The cookery lessons offer beneficial practical experience of cookery and the students learn good kitchen practice. Basic literacy and mathematics knowledge, as well as social interaction skills and elements of health education are reinforced in the programmes that are presented by both teachers.
The programme for Junior Certificate in Arts, Craft and Design is presented. This programme includes drawing, sketching, painting, clay, printing, modelling and construction, art appreciation and art history. As well as completing their individual portfolios for the Junior Certificate Examination, opportunities are provided for the students to work together on group projects. Good practice was observed in relation to the learning of art techniques in different areas of the programme. The emphasis was placed on the acquisition of skills by the students by means of active learning with individualised support by the teacher. Examples of the students’ work are displayed in the common areas of the school.
Music is not taught as a subject for Junior Certificate. A limited programme is provided for some of the classes. Due to the unavailability of the teacher, Music was not observed during the evaluation.
Drama was not observed during the evaluation and does not feature on the school timetable.
There is no hall for Physical Education (PE) in the school. The lack of a grassed outdoor area also limits the range of PE activities that can be provided. Some activities are organised in the school playground and a local park is also used for recreation and physical education activities. The general-purposes classroom, which functions as a PE room, supports small-scale activities. Football is organised in a local hall and indoor games are played in a local Traveller centre. A swimming lesson in a local swimming pool is provided once per week. Swimming lessons are attended by the boys. The girls do not participate - apparently for cultural reasons. The expenses that are incurred in hiring the swimming pool and the swimming coach are funded under the School Completion Programme. As observed during the school evaluation, the swimming lessons are well-organised and the boys derive benefit from these activities.
A programme of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is presented to the students throughout the school. The development of self-esteem, self-management, social skills, communication and decision-making skills as well as valuing cultural identity is emphasised in the programme. Aspects of nationally-developed programmes relating to personal health and safety, and substance misuse are included. Because of issues of parental consent, some elements of Relationships and Sexuality Education are not covered. At the time of the evaluation, the board of management was in the process of convening a committee to examine the school policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education. School assemblies provide helpful opportunities for promoting a climate of mutual respect throughout the school and for reinforcing values and attitudes relevant to SPHE. Some of the activities that are funded through the School Completion Programme, especially those that involve games and extracurricular activities provide a useful context for fostering personal and social skills.
Civic, Social and Political Education
Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is offered as a subject for the Junior Certificate Examination. A curriculum policy on CSPE is presented in the whole-school plan. A list of active learning methodologies and an inventory of appropriate content excerpted from CSPE targets in the Junior Certificate School Programme are described. Topics that are relevant to the students and their community are selected for study. The lessons that were observed during the evaluation followed a well-planned sequence that included guided whole-class discussions in which students considered their own thoughts and beliefs. Suitable activities in which students worked with a partner helped to maintain interest and reinforce learning. Literacy development was encouraged through the identification and matching of topical key words. Third-year students have begun their exam-required Action Project, with the class designing a questionnaire through which they will collect and collate data from the settled community on prevailing attitudes towards the Travelling community.
A Cultural Studies lesson is presented to each class group once per week. These lessons provide an opportunity for the examination of Traveller culture within the context of Irish society and the world. The students are asked to scrutinize their own cultural values and beliefs in an informal but supportive environment. The course is based primarily on information provided by various Traveller support groups, and the students contribute from their own experiences of Traveller life. Following open discussion, students work in their own folder, at their own pace, through a series of teacher-selected worksheets. The teacher monitors the work and provides assistance as required. In a general sense, the presentation of a Cultural Studies course is commendable. However, in the lessons that were observed during the school evaluation, the students were minimally engaged in topics that should be highly motivating for them. Further planning for Cultural Studies including the setting of specific objectives is recommended.
The whole-school plan includes a section on assessment in which the purpose of assessment is outlined and some methods of assessment in use in the school are listed. Assessment methods include teacher observation, informal tests devised by the teachers, projects, portfolios, standardised tests of reading achievement and the participation of students in the Junior Certificate Examination. On entry to the school, each student is administered a number of standardised literacy tests by the learning-support teacher with the support of classroom teachers. The results of these tests, along with any information available in psychological reports, are used by the learning-support teacher to create Individual Education Plans and to set learning activities for the learning-support, withdrawal sessions. This information is also used with factors such as age, gender and cultural issues to determine class placement. Test data is held securely by the learning-support teacher and is made available to class teachers.
It is stated in the school plan that, when appropriate, educational psychological assessment is sought for students through the National Educational Psychological Service. However, due to restrictions in the number of assessments available, not every student is assessed when considered necessary by the school. Students with specific needs may also be referred to a local heath centre or to a local child-guidance clinic. The principal indicated the need for more educational psychological support for the school.
Students with special educational needs are identified at entry to the school through contact with feeder primary schools, through the provision of psychological reports by parents or through assessment after enrolment in St Thomas’s School. The teachers endeavour to take account of the special educational needs of the students by adapting their teaching approaches and learning activities. The two special-needs assistants work collaboratively with the teachers in the provision of assistance for individual students.
Work is proceeding in relation to individualised planning for students. One teacher acts as the named co-ordinator for Individual Education Plans (IEPs). IEPs focussing on academic and/or social development have been drawn up for all students with identified special educational needs and for a number of students with undiagnosed needs. Individual programmes are also drawn up by the learning-support teacher but these are different from the “school” IEPs. There was little evidence that the IEP process that is currently in place is making a significant impact on student learning and behaviour. There is need for greater collaboration between the teachers in identifying and recording the learning needs and strengths of the students and in setting specific learning targets for them.
It is recommended that the procedures to be used in the compilation, implementation and review of IEPs be agreed and set out in a school policy document. The role and involvement of school staff, parents and support services should be clearly specified. The teacher with responsibility for co-ordinating IEPs, the learning-support teacher and others should work collaboratively to create a single integrated IEP for each student with special needs. The IEP process should result in the setting of realistic learning targets. Interventions to be implemented by the mainstream and learning-support teachers should be stated. The outcome of interventions should be monitored regularly and a formal review of the IEP should take place not less than once per year.
The co-ordinator of the School Completion Programme provides learning support for individual students. Individual students are withdrawn from their mainstream classes for additional teaching in literacy and numeracy and for support in relation to Junior Certificate programmes. However, during the evaluation, scope for development was noted in the planning, co-ordination and implementation of interventions for these students. The times at which the students are withdrawn for learning support are irregular and are often not scheduled in advance. There is a need to link closely the work that is undertaken by the learning-support teacher and the mainstream teachers. This should be done in the context of individualised planning, target setting and provision of interventions for these students. It is recommended that the current emphasis on a withdrawal model for learning-support be revised and that the potential benefit of in-class collaboration between the class teachers and the learning-support teacher be explored.
St Thomas’ School is included in the School Completion Programme since 1998. The availability of the School Completion Programme is viewed within the school as a positive and hopeful development that has had a positive influence on tackling low achievement and drop-out rates. Grant aid of €92,000 was provided in 2006. A local management committee which includes representatives of the visiting teacher service and local agencies has been established to plan and oversee the work of the project. Additional staffing under the School Completion Programme includes one full-time teacher (the School Completion Programme co-ordinator) and one part-time teacher who acts as a home visitor. The co-ordinator manages the funding and administration of the School Completion Programme. The co-ordinator also provides learning support mainly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, and gives individualised support to students who are preparing for the Junior Certificate Examination. School meals - breakfast and lunch – are provided for students under the programme. Additional activities such as football, swimming, school trips to places of interest and holiday activities are also organised by means of funding provided through the School Completion Programme with the objective of encouraging the students’ participation and retention in the school. However, the girls do not participate in sports activities and in the current year, parallel activities for the girls have not been organised. The small student population makes it difficult for the staff to organise a broad range of extracurricular activities. Staff explained that the very small numbers of girls attending St Thomas’s School and their poor attendance as well as their unwillingness to participate in activities with the boys makes very difficult the task of providing suitable activities for the girls. It is likely that a mainstream school would offer far greater opportunities for the girls to belong to a peer group and to access extracurricular activities.
A school retention policy is in place through which attendance is supported, absences are tracked, and remedial efforts are made to persuade students to return to school. The home visitor who is funded through the School Completion Programme helps to provide communication between home and school and is reported by the school to have a positive impact on attendance at school by the students. However, as was pointed out earlier in the report, very significant difficulties regarding attendance and retention remain.
School staff expressed concern that they are not included in the new DEIS programme and the future implications that this may have for the continuation of funding under the School Completion Programme.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed. The staff and management of St Thomas’s School were commended for their commitment to the education of Traveller children and for their respectful and supportive interaction with the students and their families. They were thanked for their co-operation with the evaluation team during the course of the evaluation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The staff members of St Thomas’s School work in a committed and caring manner on behalf of the students.
· The board of management provides active support for the work of the school.
· The principal and staff endeavour to maintain close contact with the parents of the students.
· The Junior Certificate programme provides the students with the opportunity for certification.
The inspectors identified significant shortcomings in the structure and operation of St Thomas’s School. This school caters exclusively for Traveller children, which results in a lack of opportunity for inclusive education with students who are not Travellers. The social variety and the intellectual stimulation and challenge of attending school with students who are not Travellers is not available. Other shortcomings identified by the inspectors included the following:
· The school day in St Thomas’s School is twenty minutes shorter than the standard school day in primary schools. Even if a full primary-school day is provided, students’ time in school will still be considerably shorter than the typical school day in a post-primary school.
· Weaknesses were identified in planning at whole-school and classroom levels and in relation to addressing the specific needs of individual pupils.
· Low attendance by many students continues, despite the opportunities that are provided for students under the School Completion Programme.
· A significant number of students leave school early without completing junior cycle programmes and without certification.
· The opportunity to attend a senior-cycle programme is not available in St Thomas’s School. The students complete their secondary education at the end of junior cycle. The students do not transfer to post-primary schools to take post-primary senior cycle courses following the completion of their placement in St Thomas’s School.
· Most of the students do not live in close proximity to St Thomas’s School. Most travel outside their local area to access education in St Thomas’s School.
· The facilities available in the school are very restricted. There is no science laboratory, no woodwork room, no metalwork room and no hall for P.E.
· Despite the fact that the ratio of teachers to students is much more favourable than would be the case in a mainstream post-primary school, only a limited range of curricular choices is available to the students. A narrow choice of subjects is offered for Junior Certificate subjects at ordinary and foundation levels only. These limitations arise mainly because of the short school day, the small size of the student population, the lack of certain facilities in the school building, and need for further specialist skills among the staff.
· Although a number of sports and extracurricular activities are provided (particularly to the boys) under the School Completion Programme, the availability of extracurricular activities for the students is restricted, particularly opportunities for social integration with students who are not Travellers.
The following key recommendations are made as a means of building on the strengths identified above and to address areas for improvement.
· The school day should be reorganised in compliance with the terms of circular 11/95.
· A review of the organisational and curricular policies in the school plan should be carried out with a view to bringing about consistency in the organisation of the school and the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum for the students.
· The teachers should agree a revised framework for their long-term and short-term preparation for teaching.
· The processes leading to the formulation, implementation and review of Individual Education Plans should be clearly stated, in line with current legislation and the policies of the Department of Education and Science.
· An audit of resources for teaching and learning should be carried out and new resources should be provided as required.
· Staff should make greater use of activity-based and group-learning approaches, particularly in the areas of Mathematics and Science.
· The school policy on homework should be reconsidered.
· Staff should be provided with access to further training, particularly in relation to the management of challenging behaviour.
The findings of the evaluation and the recommendations arising were outlined at the post-inspection meetings with the board of management and with the staff. The inspectors also drew attention to the advances in the provision of education to Traveller children in mainstream schools and developments in the legislative supports for inclusive education.
In conclusion, the inspectors note that the provision of education to Traveller children in segregated settings is no longer consistent with the policy of the Department of Education and Science. In the Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy (The Stationary Office, 2006) it is recommended that “Traveller pupils should have equality of access, equality of participation and equality of outcome in a fully inclusive post-primary education system that respects Traveller identity and culture” (page 54). This school and two other schools in the education system find themselves unusually placed in relation to this policy and the implications of this anomaly need to be fully considered by the Department of Education and Science.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board believes that the work of the school needs to be located in the context of the participation, outcomes and provision of education for Travellers nationally, particularly at second level. The following points need to be taken into consideration:
A. The parents in this school at present feel strongly that a Traveller only option is more suitable for their children at second level.
B. A recent report, Left Behind 2006, that was carried out on behalf of the Clonshaugh Consortium, with funding from the Gender Equality Unit of the Department of Education and Science, found that a large number of teenage boys and girls aged 12-16 were not in any form of schooling in the north Dublin area.
C. Attendance rates for Travellers, particularly at second level are a matter of concern nationally as has been shown by the Department’s recent report Survey of Traveller Education Provision 2006 and the Chief Inspector’s Report 2001-2004
D. Outcomes are also a matter of serious concern for Travellers at second level. This school has maximised Junior Certificate success in the context of current Traveller culture by creating positive role models who are supported to achieve.
E. The board feels there is a need for a continuum of education provision in the north Dublin area for the young people, not only Travellers, who do not benefit from mainstream second level education, as strongly recommended by the Report of the Task Force on Student Behaviour School Matters 2006.
F. The board feels strongly that such a possible redesignation, in consultation with all the partners, would best utilise the expertise built up throughout the past 25 years.
The school looks forward to a future that is reflective of current policy with adequate provision and support that protects and furthers the rights of our most vulnerable young people.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The board has begun the process of implementing the recommendations in the Whole School Evaluation. The board has also initiated negotiations with Special Education in light of the recommendations of the Traveller Education Strategy.